Translation and Appropriation in the (Indigenous) Eighteenth Century

Canadian Society for the 18th Century Study (CSECS) & Midwestern American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (MWASECS) Annual conference: 13–16 October 2021 @ University of Winnipeg. Translation and Appropriation in the Long Eighteenth Century

I am thrilled to be part of an incredibly stimulating and diverse programme. I look forward to share research experiences, questions, and perspectives at the Roundtable Researching in the Indigenous Eighteenth Century:

Thursday, 14 October 2021, 2:45-4:00 pm / jeudi, 14h45-16h (ET time = 7:45pm London time)
3F. Roundtable / Table ronde: Researching in the Indigenous Eighteenth Century
Moderator / Modérateur, modératrice : June Scudeler (Métis, Simon Fraser University)

Roland Bohr (University of Winnipeg)
Mary Baine Campbell (Brandeis University)
Dr. Peter I-min Huang (Tamkang University, Taiwan)
Giulia Iannuzzi (Birkbeck, University of London – Universities of Florence and Trieste)
Livia Jacob (Rio de Janeiro State University)
Fred Leonard (Haudenosaunee Historian and Author)
Peter Cooper Mancall (University of Southern California)

I will be presenting my lates research on indigenous languages in eighteenth-century European travel accounts on Friday, contributing to a stimulating panel on Places and peoples, part of the Indigenous Eighteenth century programme:

9:00-10:15 am / vendredi, 9h-10h15 (ET time = 2pm London time)
Session 5 / Séance 5
5E. Panel : Places and People
Moderator / Modérateur, modératrice : Mark Meuwese (University of Winnipeg)
Lauren Beck (Mount Allison University), Eighteenth-Century Indigenous Influences on Canada’s Place Names
Giulia Iannuzzi (Birkbeck, University of London – Universities of Florence and Trieste), ‘The language of Uncultivated Man, in Remote and Fresh Discovered Quarters of the Globe’: Nuu-chah-nulth People and the Conceptualization of Linguistic Otherness in the Account of Cook’s Third Voyage
Andreas Motsch (University of Toronto), Native American Belief Systems between Nature and Culture, Religion and Idolatry: Picard and Bernard’s Cérémonies et coutumes de tous les peuples idolâtres

Conference website at this external link

Full conference programme at this external link

James Cook and James King (ed. John Douglas), A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean … (London: 1784), appendix VI, “Vocabulary of the Language of Nootka and King George’s Sound, April 1778”. Copy at Biodiversity Heritage Library under CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication license.

Comparative Ambitions and Merchandise in Late Eighteenth-Century North America

Vocabularies between scientific enquiry and colonial interests: a new post in the Languages and/in time series

The end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century saw a phase of increasing activity in the systematic compilation of vocabularies appended to travel accounts. The aims of scientific enquiry and commercial and colonial interests remained closely intertwined. This is the case, for example, of the James Cook’s third voyage, and of the expedition led by George Dixon and Nathaniel Portlock who followed the route opened by Cook’s third voyage. Leaving England in 1785, Dixon and Portlock aimed to explore the region of the Great Lakes, Quebec and the Pacific coast, to then continue on to China to sell American furs and buy tea in Macau. Dixon, who had been on board the Discovery with Cook, looked for support for the new expedition from the Royal Society by seeking the endorsement of Joseph Banks. The voyage was organised by Richard Cadman Etches and Company (also known as King George’s Sound Company), and before leaving, a licence was purchased from the South Sea Company. Exploiting the recently established North-Pacific routes to China for the fur trade was combined with objectives in exploration and scientific research.[1] In Cook’s journal, prepared for the press by John Douglas and published in 1784, the comparative tables of languages, part of the appendixes, reveal the composite and complex nature of the official account as a collective artifact. Composed by Douglas, they merge information recorded on the field by Cook and by the Resolution’s surgeon William Anderson with knowledge from other sources, and are explicitly offered as linguistic proof of the relationships connecting the history of different populations, such as the common origins of Esquimaux (Eskimos) and Greenlanders.[2]

A View of the Habitations in Nootka Sound
“A View of the Habitations in Nootka Sound,” engraving after Webber, in Cook, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, 8vo edition printed for John Stockdale, Scatcherd and Whitaker, John Fielding, and John Hardy (London, 1784), plate after page 252. The houses and canoes of the natives are seen from the sea. There is one group communicating with sailors on the shore, and a second group near other sailors arriving in a small rowboat. Conifers and hills in the background. Copy at Wellcome Library.

Both Dixon and Portlock published accounts as soon as they returned.[3] Dixon himself wrote the introduction and appendix of his text, while the main body – in epistolary form – is attributed to the trader William Beresford.[4] The mission resulted in a number of areas being mapped for the first time (including Port Mulgrave, Port Banks, and Norfolk Sound – present-day Sitka Sound), and in materials documenting location, languages, manners and customs of the local populations. Dixon (or, in fact, Beresford) described the difficulty he met with while acquiring samples of the languages, both because of trouble finding common ground in the course of initial contacts, and because of other commitments interfering in the schedule, leaving too little a time for study and research.

I often endeavoured to gain some knowledge of their language, but I never could so much as learn the numerals: every attempt I made of the kind either caused a sarcastic laugh amongst the Indians or was treated by them with silent contempt; indeed many of the tribes who visited us, were busied in trading the moment they came along side, and hurried away as soon as their traffic was over; others, again, who staid with us for any length of time, were never of a communicative disposition.[5]

Words to indicate numbers offered the ideal raw material with which to write a short comparative summary of the languages spoken in ‘Prince William’s Sound and Cook’s River’, ‘Norfolk Sound’, and ‘King George’s Sound’. Methodological issues raised by the transcription encouraged a reflection on the absence of objective criteria and on the writer’s own linguistic notions and skills.[6] As for pronunciation – remarked Dixon – indigenous Americans had more success with English than do many speakers from other European countries. This comparison actually led to the category of ‘European’ being used, a category which appears very rarely in other parts of the account, such as in reference to the indigenous Americans’ skin colour being slightly darker than the Europeans’, and in relating the havoc wreaked by the Europeans in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) by bringing new diseases with them.[7] In the essential vocabulary of the language spoken on the Sandwich Islands’ that Beresford managed to write down in September 1787, despite the almost total absence of abstract concepts, the word taboo stands out. It was a term of Polynesian origin (e.g. Tonga, Fiji) already noted by Cook and here translated with the English interdiction, since it had yet to become the loanword universally known in European languages today.[8] In August 1787, Portlock (whose account shows comparatively less interest in the language of the populations he encountered) wrote down a list of words from the language spoken by the inhabitants of Montague Island (Alaska).[9] He prefaced it by remarking that ‘[t]heir language is harsh and unpleasant to hear’, and that he was transcribing it ‘spelled as near the manner of their pronunciation as I could give’. Of the fourteen entries what stands out is the peremptory nature of the opening sequence: ‘Give or hand me / sea-otter / bring’, and the central position occupied by the objects and goods important for trading – ‘sea otter’, ‘beads’, ‘iron’, ‘blanket’, ‘young sea-otter’, ‘a box’, ‘marmot or ermine skin’. What emerges frequently in these accounts by Cook’s followers, are the problems posed by a flow of oral production which proves difficult to document in writing. In this respect, illuminating comparisons can be made with how these travellers described music. Often used to mark key moments in the political and social life of the populations encountered, singing and musical performances heightened the impression that the aural dimension may be only partially and imperfectly conveyed by written registrations, and it often bring to light particularly interesting examples of cultural ethnocentrism on the part of the Europeans.[10] While it was unclear whether the ‘Indians’ ‘make use of any hieroglyphics to perpetuate the memory of events’, a primacy was implicitly granted to writing in documenting the past, giving support to a hierarchisation that relegated indigenous American forms of communication to the realm of ‘uncultivated barbarism’.[11]

Near the end of the century, another very interesting example of vocabulary relatively neglected by scholars is the one compiled by John Long in his Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader. Relating the author’s adventures between the 1770s and the 1780s, the Voyages were published in London in 1791, possibly in the wake of the success of Carver’s account.[12] Notwithstanding translations appearing in French and German the very same year of the English first edition, and two twentieth-century editions in English, the limited attention paid to Long’s Voyages by scholars is perhaps due to it being the only known work by the author, whose life remains obscure in many respects.[13] The title, together with the vocabularies in the appendix and the dedication to Joseph Banks (who is also listed among the subscribers of the first edition), makes it clear that Long hoped to offer a systematic contribution to current knowledge of the indigenous American languages. Cognisance and proficiency in Native American matters went hand in hand with the advocacy in favour political alliances with the First Nations in order to strengthen British interests north of the Great Lakes after the American War of Independence.[14] Long’s role in the Independence War, leading an irregular British-Indian troop, will scandalise the author of the preface to the Chicago 1922 edition.[15] Whether Long had a formal education in England is unknown, but the impression gained from his account is that the most important part of his education (and certainly his language learning) took place in Canada, in the field, and was shaped by mercantile interests:

On my arrival at Montreal, I was placed under the care of a very respectable merchant to learn the Indian trade, which is the chief support of the town. I soon acquired the names of every article of commerce in the Iroquois and French languages, and being at once prepossessed in favour of the savages, improved daily in their tongue, to the satisfaction of my employer, who approving my assiduity, and wishing me to be completely qualified in the Mohawk language to enable me to traffic with the Indians in his absence, sent me to a village called Cahnuaga, or Cocknawaga, situated about nine miles from Montreal […] where I lived with a chief whose name was Assenegetbter, until I was sufficiently instructed in the language, and then returned to my master’s store, to improve myself in French, which is not only universally spoken in Canada, but is absolutely necessary in the commercial intercourse with the natives, and without which it would be impossible to enjoy the society of the most respectable families, who are in general ignorant of the English language.[16]

This passage reveals quite clearly not only the author’s favourable attitude towards the Native Americans, as the vocabularies further attests, but also the presence of an intriguing plurilingualism in the eighteenth-century Montreal, where a command of French was essential, both to do any trade at all and to be a part of polite society. While the vocabularies in Long’s Voyages are still appendixes tacked on to the narrative, there is a noticeable shift in emphasis in comparison to the vocabularies described thus far. The presence of the vocabularies takes centre stage in the title page, as well as in how the book is organised: they occupy around a third of the total pages and have a complex inner organisation of their own. They are meant not only to translate English terms into Esquimeaux (Eskimo), for example, or into Iroquois (Mohawk), but also to enable the reader to make comparisons between different native languages. They include synoptic tables placing side by side English, Iroquois, Algonquin, and Chippeway; English, Mohegan, and Shawanee; English, Mohegan, Algonquin, and Chippeway. Long’s linguistic evidence integrates credited secondary sources (Lahontan, Carver, Jonathan Edwards), uncredited ones (Pehr Kalm), and original materials.[17] Kalm’s Travels into North America are referenced as source of an anecdote proving ‘that the Indians possess strong natural abilities, and are even capable of receiving improvement from the pursuits of learning’.[18] Other authors known and discussed by Long include at various points in the narrative are James Adair and Robert Rogers.[19]

John Long, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader (1791), p. 196. Copy at John Carter Library.

Only for the Chippeway (an Algonquin language also known as Ojibwa and used as a vehicular trade language in the area north of the Great Lakes) is the list translating from the English accompanied by a list translating into English.[20] Most of the space is devoted to vocabularies meant to be used by European speakers, while the compilation’s fundamental connection to trade activities is made clear by the number of words related to the typical merchandise, and by a vocabulary particularly devoted to the names of furs and skins in English and French. Some entries inadvertently document pidgins and borrowings, such as tomahawk, clearly a borrowing from an Algonquin language, which is given as the English translation for the Algonquin Agackwetons and the Chippeway Warcockquoite.[21] Long’s interest is almost exclusively directed at words in common use, and abstract notions are excluded. The time expressions pertain to the ordinary, everyday dimension (such as ‘again, or yet’, ‘always, wherever’, ‘day, or days’, etc.), while the presence of a word such as ‘késhpin’, ‘if’, does not necessarily imply the hypothetical construction of probable or unreal scenarios.[22] Its use might well be limited to expressions of uncertainty or wish, as is the only occurrence reported by Long in a speech.[23]

The contexts, aims, scope, and manners of communication are perfectly exemplified by the ‘Familiar phrases in the English and Chippeway languages’ which illustrate what ethnolinguists today would call ‘speech acts’.[24] These phrases read in many instances like the simulation of a typical communicative exchange, with an opening exchange marked by a tone of friendly familiarity:

How do you do, friend?

In good health, I thank you.

What news?

I have none.

The two anonymous speakers exchange news and insights regarding the territory, the hunting and fishing seasons, and their respective families and personal experiences, before going on to discuss business. They call each other ‘friend’. The end of the phrasebook contains a series of expressions for paying personal respects. The content and general tone of the exchange suggest that perhaps Long’s adoption by the Ojibwa chief Madjeckewiss around the end of the 1790s was more than just a ruse to gain confidence and favourable trading conditions – as the practice was often exploited by European traders eager to become part of indigenous American kinship systems.[25] For Long, it might have marked a significant stage in a process regarding how the trader perceived and represented himself.[26]

I love you.

Your health, friend.

I do not understand you.[27]

Revealingly, the final expression on this list is a statement of incomprehension, an idea missing from Long’s previous lists, perhaps indicating an awareness of the length still to be travelled along the path of intercultural comprehension.


[1] Dictionary of Canadian Biography, IV, 1771-1800 (Toronto, 1979) and 1801-1820 (Toronto, 1983), electronic ed. 2003, <>, s.v. respectively ‘Dixon, George’ and ‘Portlock, Nathaniel’, by Barry M. Gough. On the expedition: Stephen Haycox, James K. Barnett, and Caedmon A. Liburd, Enlightenment and Exploration in the North Pacific, 1741-1805 (Seattle and London, 1997), pp. 13, 41–42, 122–123; Barry M. Gough, The Northwest Coast: British Navigation, Trade, and Discoveries to 1812 (Vancouver, 1992), pp. 75–77.

[2] James Cook and James King, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (London, 1784), 3 vols, see III, pp. 531–555 for the comparative tables; [John Douglas], ‘Introduction’, in Cook and King, A voyage, I, pp. i–lxxxvi, see pp. lxxiii–lxxiv, lxxxv. On Douglas’ role: J. C. Beaglehole, ‘Textual Introduction’, The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery, ed. Beaglehole, 4 vols (Cambridge, 1955-67; electronic reprint, 2017), III – The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery 1776-1780,tome I, pp. cxcviii–ccx; on Anderson: Glyn Williams, Naturalists at Sea: Scientific Travellers from Dampier to Darwin (New Haven and London, 2013), pp. 124–125.

[3] George Dixon [and William Beresford], A Voyage round the World, but More Particularly to the North-West Coast of America (London, 1789). Dixon’s account was translated into French the following year.

[4] For this attribution: Philip Edwards, The Story of the Voyage: Sea-Narratives in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 1994), p. 127; Dictionary of Canadian Biography, s.v. ‘Dixon’; Albert J. Schütz, The Voices of Eden: A History of Hawaiian Language Studies (Honolulu, 1994), p. 36; Dan L. Thrapp, Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography, I, A–F (Lincoln and London, 1991), p. 406.

[5] Dixon, A voyage, pp. 227–228.

[6] Dixon, A voyage, p. 241; similar remarks accompany the vocabulary of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), p. 270.

[7] Dixon, A voyage, pp. 241, 238, 276–277.

[8] Cook and King, A Voyage, III, pp. 10, 537, 553; Dixon, A Voyage, pp. 269–270.

[9] Portlock, A voyage, p. 293 also for subsequent quotes in the text. This list possibly documents a language belonging to the ample stock of Athabaskan-Eyak-Tingit, to which some forty varieties belong today, between Alaska and Hudson Bay, and along the Pacific coast, from British Columbia to the South-West; Mithun, The Languages, pp. 1, 26, 307, 346.

[10] Dixon, A Voyage, pp. 160, 189, 190, 228, 242–243 and subsequent table, 259, 269, 277, 313 (here on China).

[11] Dixon, A Voyage, p. 243 on ‘hieroglyphics’, p. 245 on the ‘uncultivated barbarism’; on coeval claims that there could be no history without writing see Ann Thomson, ‘Thinking about the history of Africa in the eighteenth Century’, in Abbattista (ed.), Encountering Otherness, pp. 253–266.

[12] J[ohn] Long, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader (London, 1791). On Carver’s fortune possibly favouring the publication: John Long’s Voyages and Travels in the Years 1768-1788, ed. Milo Milton Quaife (Chicago, 1922), pp. xviii–xix.

[13] Subsequent editions are: Early Western Travels, 1748-1846,II: John Long’s Journal, ed. Reuben Gold Thwaites (Cleveland, OH, 1904); John Long’s Voyages,ed.Quaife; German and French translations are published in 1791 and 1792 respectively; on Long’s biography: Michael Blanar, ‘Long’s Voyages and Travels: Fact and fiction’, in Jennifer S. H. Brown, W. J. Eccles, Donald P. Heldman (eds), The Fur Trade Revisited: Selected Papers of the Sixth North American Fur Trade Conference (Mackinac Island, 1994), pp. 447–463.

[14] Long, Voyages, pp. 9–10.

[15] John Long’s Voyages, pp. xii–xiii.

[16] Long, Voyages, p. 4.

[17] Long, Voyages, pp. viii, ix, 4, 10, 62, 83, 84, 130, 131. For a detailed listing of Long’s linguistic materials and their sources: Peter Bakker, ‘Is John Long’s Chippeway (1791) an Ojibwe pidgin?’, in William Cowan (ed.), Actes du vingt-cinquième congrès del Algonquinistes (Ottawa, 1995), pp. 13–31, esp. pp. 14–16; at p. 14 note 2 Bakker differs from Gille, who defines Long ‘the most cunning plagiarist of the Petit Dictionaire’, Johannes Gille, ‘Zur Lexikologie des Alt-Algonkin’, Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie, 71 (1940), pp. 71–86, see p. 75. Jonathan Edwards, Observations on the Language of the Muhhekaneew Indians (New Haven, 1788).

[18] Pehr Kalm, Travels into North America (Warrington and London, 1770-71), 3 vols; Long, Voyages, pp. 28–29.

[19] Long, Voyages, pp. 29, 31, 71–72, 149, 155 for references to James Adair, and p. 155 for a mention of Robert Rogers.

[20] Campbell, American Indian Languages, pp. 29, 401 note 135, 153. On Chippeway as a vehicular and inter-tribal language during the nineteenth century: Richard A. Rhodes, ‘Algonquian trade languages revisited’, in Karl S. Hele and J. Randolph Valentine (eds), Papers of the 40th Algonquian Conference (Albany, 2010), pp. 358–369. Bakker, ‘Is John Long’s Chippeway (1791) an Ojibwe pidgin?’, p. 30.

[21] Campbell, American Indian Languages, p. 11.

[22] Long, Voyages, pp. 196–208: ‘A table of words shewing, in a variety of instances, the difference as well as analogy between the Algonkin and Chippeway languages, with the English explanation’; pp. 227–252: ‘Table of words: English: Chippeway’; pp. 253–282: ‘Table of words: Chippeway: English’.

[23] Long, Voyages, pp. 134, 234. For usage in hypothetical scenarios: John Horden, A Grammar of the Cree language (London, 1913), p. 33; John Summerfield, alias Sahgahjewagahbahweh, Sketch of Grammar of the Chippeway Languages (Cazenovia, 1834), pp. 11–13, 16–17.

[24] Long, Voyages, pp. 283–295, also quoted below in the text.

[25] Theda Perdue and Michael D. Green, North American Indians: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2010), electronic ed., pp. 99–109, 162.

[26] The linguistic analysis of the vocabularies and of the Chippeway texts scattered through the narrative leads Bakker to believe that ‘it is likely that the vocabularies, the dialogues and the speeches were all put together independently by the same person, most probably Long […] not the publisher or an editor’, Bakker, ‘Is John Long’s Chippeway (1791) an Ojibwe pidgin?’, p. 30.

[27] Long, Voyages, p. 294.


This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “‘Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage’: Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America”, History (2021).

Access the full text in open access on the publisher’s website at this EXTERNAL LINK.

Contact me if you wish to receive a pdf.

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Comparative Ambitions and Merchandise in Late Eighteenth-Century North America," in Geographies of Time, 01/10/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage

Phrasebooks for European travellers in eighteenth-century North America and the cultural construction of a global Europeanness.

This article explores the vocabularies of Native American languages published as part of the travel accounts written by explorers, traders and colonial policymakers in North America over the eighteenth century. Starting with the renowned Voyages by the Baron de Lahontan, the analysis takes as its endpoint the journals of the famous expedition led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The aim of this study is to foreground what these lexicographic compilations reveal about European encounters with societies categorised as radically different from – and less civilised than – the traveller’s own: an ‘otherness’ sometimes exploited as a mirror and term of comparison that challenged the observer’s ethnocentrism. Drawing on existing scholarship about the cultural history of Euro-American encounters in the modern age, this study puts forward an original analysis of the temporal conceptualisations underpinning vocabularies of ‘savage languages’, in terms of both historical diachronicity and time as a culturally constructed frame of human experience.

This focus on the lists of words and phrases included in travel accounts, journals and relations makes it possible to question the relationship between the recording of linguistic evidence and travel narratives, and explore the complex negotiations between empirical observation and pre-existing cultural categories and stereotypes. A close reading of these often-neglected primary sources helps us to identify recurrent conceptual tropes and assign a central role to the historicisation of the Amerindian within wider processes of cultural construction of a global Europeanness.

Giulia Iannuzzi, “‘Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage’: Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America”, History (2021).

Access the full text in open access on the publisher’s website:

Contact me if you wish to receive a pdf.

Lawson, A New Voyage (1709), page 225
John Lawson, A New Voyage North Carolina: Containing the Exact Description and Natural History of that Country (London, 1709), 225. In his Voyage, Lawson inserted a brief vocabulary giving the English translation of words in Tuskeruro (Tuscarora), Pampticough (Pamlico) and Woccon. Copy at John Carter Brown Library.